Wednesday, 30 September 2009

17th Sunday after Pentecost 27 Sep 2009 Sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost 27.9.09 Love of God and Neighbour

What does it mean to love God? The ultimate test of whether we love someone is deeds not words. It is no use writing love poetry if the practical details are not met -if one does not get out of bed to help, or be prepared to rearrange a schedule, or whatever is required.

However the words can be important as sources of inspiration or encouragement, but words by themselves can never be enough.

In relation to God the same principle applies. It is no use saying we love Him if we do not seek to obey Him or consider his will. It is still good to say it, however, because it helps us focus on Him and probably pleases Him. As with other things we say to God it may be more a case of telling ourselves than telling Him.

The deeds that God asks of us are many and varied. It can mean a million different things but it comes down to giving Him first place, never pushing Him to the side. Loving Him means doing whatever He asks from us. There will be different demands at different times.

One time we help an old lady across the street; another time we give money to the poor; another time a courteous reply to a stranger. The seven corporal works of mercy: To convert the sinner To instruct the ignorant To counsel the doubtful To comfort the sorrowful To bear wrongs patiently To forgive injuries To pray for the living and the dead
It can also be what we do not do: don’t eat all the food in the fridge if others might need it. Don’t play loud music after midnight.

God wants us to value the other person as important to Him. You are a child of God (or should be). Thus the epistle: give way to one another, build unity. We do not worry about titles of people or social ranking in this matter. The meanest tramp is important because a child of God.

We show our love of God by the way we treat our neighbour. We treat others as He would treat them; not relaxing His commands but guiding and encouraging others in keeping them. The Church often has to make herself unpopular in this process, but this is real love.

Some say that loving the neighbour only is necessary. God should be pleased with that, they say. The trouble is if we leave God out of the picture our love for Neighbour is going to be distorted. We need Him for moral reference, otherwise we will be condoning and abetting immoral behaviour, which is definitely not loving on our part.

We are wasting our time here (in church), some would say. We should be out mowing lawns, mending fences. Well we can do those things but we can be here as well. It is a matter of balance. We must not omit the ‘God’ part of the command.

From the proper of today’s Mass: God is ‘terrible’, in the old sense of the word, inspiring terror as we contemplate His ‘awful’ power. We need that dimension. Loving Him is having proper respect and a sense of our proper place. We can love Him directly through the liturgy and sacraments and in our private devotions. This is the ‘words’ part of expressing love; by doing this we are more likely to want to follow up the words with deeds.

Putting God at the centre of our lives means taking Him seriously in all His commands. We cannot trade off obligations. For example, if someone say: ‘If I help the poor it means it is OK if I live with a woman who is not my wife’ Any major disrespect to Him is enough to prove that I do not love Him; therefore I must set right whatever is wrong. It helps if I get other things right but I cannot claim to love God if I am deliberately violating some part of His commands.

It is an obligation to love God, but not an unpleasant one. It is, after all, our destiny and our greatest fulfilment.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

16th Sunday after Pentecost 20 Sep 2009 Sermon

16th Sunday after Pentecost 20.9.09 Ambition

In the Church we operate on different values than the secular world, or at least we should. One example of this would be the matter of Ambition. In secular terms it is acceptable and even encouraged to be ambitious for high office, for example to try to be Prime Minister. But in Church terms if someone said he was running for Pope at the next election this would be frowned on.

In Church life we are supposed to be humble, meaning that we do not grasp for positions of influence; do not push ourselves forward. Thus today’s Gospel of taking the lowest seat at the table.

We see that many saints resisted promotion. Quite a few saints had to be coerced into becoming bishops or popes. It was genuine humility in their case.

They said they were not worthy. In the strict sense they were correct. Even the saint is unworthy of these things – unworthy as compared with God Himself, but far more worthy than the average person.

In Church terms we speak of Vocation, a softer variant of Ambition. What do I think I am meant to do? What is God asking me to do? Whatever it is I can do it with the help of His grace no matter how far beyond my own natural powers. He will make it possible.

What then should be our ambition? We should put ourselves totally in God’s hands, like the clay to be formed by the potter. What He makes of us is up to Him. He could make me the Pope or the Prime Minister, or someone totally obscure that people ignore in the street. I should not care which. If God wants it then I want it. Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.

Where we fit in is not clear to us in advance but God can use each one of us and it is a privilege to be any part of the picture.

The worldly wisdom is to say I plan to be a millionaire by 25, and do this course or have this career, or live in this city, and have this many children...How much of that involves God? Sometimes people will add ‘God willing’, but it all needs to be subject to His will, an ongoing cooperation, and being ready to adapt to whatever is needed.

So we learn not to be too desirous of any position or circumstances, but ready for anything even exile or death. (For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content therewith. I know both how to be brought low, and I know how to abound (every where and in all things I am instructed): both to be full and to be hungry: both to abound and to suffer need. Ph 4,11-12)

Whatever God allows to happen to me is good insofar as He can use it for His purposes. He knows what He needs from me, so I let Him go to work.

I am not running for Pope but to be the best possible person, the best I can be, not running against others but against myself.

It is not just what title we have. I could be Pope but I still have to be charitable and humble and not complain if it is too hot etc. Being Christian is paramount and always applies, regardless of rank or title.The fundamental vocation is to be like Christ. Thus the epistle today: St Paul prays that we find Him and be transformed interiorly.

We can pray about the subsidiary details but the main point is that I be available to do His will.

I sit at the lowest point of the table and wait for Him to direct me. Of course, the lowest point in this parable means humility. So even if one is promoted to high honours in self-opinion we always remain at the lowest point.

If we maintain that basic humility and accompany it with a readiness to do anything that God asks of us we have the right ambition!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

15th Sunday after Pentecost 13 Sep 2009 Sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost 13.9.09 Satisfaction guaranteed

Certain products we can buy will say on the label: If not completely satisfied return the package and we will send you a refund.

This can be a bit like what happens when we pray. We can ask for things like a new bike for Christmas, or, Lord, just let me win the lottery and I will spend the money wisely.

Yet, Christmas comes and no bike, and the lottery comes and I win about nine dollars at the most. Where is God, we say. Why does He not grant our prayers?

Well, one thing we can say is that He gives us what we need not what we want.

Or we could say He gives us either what we ask or something better still. He blesses us beyond what we ask (Now to Him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us: Eph3,20).

We never get less than we ask.

The only remaining problem is that our definition of ‘better’ might not be the same as His.We value the three million dollar lottery prize more than He does. Whereas He might say we are better off poor, because it will keep us humble and dependent on Him. But we say we could handle the money and still be humble. Maybe not.

Eventually we will come around to see that He was right.

The Gospel today records the return to life of the widow’s only son. It raises questions about God’s providence and His desire to bless us. Our Lord ‘felt sorry’ for the woman and spontaneously gave her what she wanted. This much is easy to understand.

But the question then could be: why does He not return everyone to life? Lots of people would be grieving as much as that woman: why not give them back the person they love?

It is a natural instinct when we hear of death to wish it were not so. But we see it is not God’s normal way to do what He did in this story.

He gives us either what we ask or something better. He has another way of bringing back the dead. It is called Heaven. He takes them to a better place (always presuming the right disposition on their part). The mysteries of His judgment of others are beyond us, but we can influence even that process by our prayer. We intercede constantly for the best possible result. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who most need Thy mercy.

He saves us from death - eternal death. If we have faith; if we are living in a state of grace then physical death is just a comma in the sentence, a transition to a fuller life.

We sometimes rage against His will. On the question of death, we are especially inclined to do that. Many, sadly, have abandoned their faith because of the death of a particular person. If God took my mother or son or best friend, then I don’t believe in Him for being so mean.

But He never gives us less than we ask. If He does not return the people to us He certainly does not abandon them either. He blesses them and us in a different way. Them, with mercy and eternal life. Us, with hope of joining them.

He brings back to life in another sense also: that of forgiveness of sin. He returns the wayward son to his Mother, the Church. This may be less spectacular than a physical rising from the dead, but it is more important.

Almighty God is always receiving complaints. The human race is largely ‘sending back the package’ demanding a refund.

One of the many blessings He gives us is Wisdom – the ability to understand how He is working in our lives. And with that will come patience, humility, obedience, resignation to His will. And thanksgiving that it is all coming to where it needs to be.

If every prayer brings either what we ask or something better – how can we lose? Amongst our other petitions let us ask for the grace to trust in God at all times and in all things.

Monday, 7 September 2009

14th Sunday after Pentecost 6 Sep 2009 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 6.9.09 Full confidence

Some bet cautiously, just two dollars a year on a major horse race. It is better to be cautious and we don’t want a gambling addiction. But the language at least of gambling can be helpful to our faith.

The same sort of caution does not apply to the faith. Don’t put all your house on one race, but if you are to be a disciple of Christ you should put the whole house on Him, and the whole life too.

With misplaced caution some have just a little interest in religion. They smooth out the faith to an average level where they are indistinguishable from their neighbours. ‘Religion is all very well as far as it goes. But you don’t want to be going to Mass every day or saying rosaries etc.’

Granted, balance and wisdom are necessary, but people will think you are a religious fanatic if you show any signs of piety. We can’t be following every vision or being obsessed with our sins, but we should be enthusiastic about our faith. Praying more rather than less.

Our trust in God should be boundless, putting everything into God’s hands. So many places in the Scriptures tell us this (and today’s Gospel).

In betting terms it is All or Nothing. Not only we should put everything we have on Jesus Christ, but we must.

The reason we don’t put all our money on something is we might lose it all.
So with our religion we might have doubts: What if this is the wrong religion? What if there is no life after death? There are plenty of people to tell me these things are not true.

So I will just put my toe in the water; do the minimum, hoping to survive if it is all true. If it is not true then I have not missed out! This is an each-way bet.

The Church in her history has always seen a minority of committed, really committed people. The great bulk have been middling, mediocre. This is why we have so few saints in proportion to the total.

It is always easy to be the same as the majority. But in this case we should be like the disciples in the early Church, enthusiastic enough to share their possessions, or even to die for their faith.

The more mediocre we are the less convincing the Church’s witness, and this is why the gospel is easily rejected.

So we reach a state of affairs where people think it makes no difference whether one is Christian or not. As long as we are generally nice people it does not matter what creed we hold (they say).

If the Gospel were written by these people we would have Our Lord saying, Verily, I say to you you should go to Mass occasionally, give a few dollars every now and then to charity; be friendly to everyone – but nothing about renouncing our life, forgiving our enemies, giving without counting the cost, and so on.

I cannot wait for others to commit; I must start myself. It begins with me (and you).

The specific course of actions required for each person may vary according to vocation and situation, but all without exception are called to wholehearted trust and commitment.

We can build up to the required level of commitment. We will not be all-or-nothing saints in one day, but we can increase commmitment over time. We can strengthen the fortress with more consistent prayer, more discipline, more generosity etc.

All the time we will have to overcome the temptation to have misplaced caution. Imagine if at Pentecost the apostles had stayed inside just to think about it. They would have lost the momentum.

There would be no martyrs or missionaries ever. Everyone would stay home and stay inside.

We see that somebody has to take a risk.

At the very least give more room to God, asking to be built up in faith and fervour, and see the good fruits emerge (as listed in today’s epistle).